Drupal Dev Days 2023 Vienna

Daniel Lemon / Aug 3, 2023

With over 60 sessions, 3 keynote speakers, 8 tracks (3 parallel tracks), and over 330 participants; this year’s edition of Drupal Developer Days held in Vienna was an absolute success. Each day started with an insightful keynote, which we’re going to recap here.

Keynote 1: ‘Keeping Drupal competitive on the modern web’

Alexander “Kingdutch” Varwijk opened the conference with his keynote focusing on keeping Drupal competitive on the modern web. Alexander showcased the timeline and growth of Drupal, compared to other open-source communities in the JavaScript, TypeScript, and Rust ecosystems. The state of developer ecosystem survey conducted by JetBrains shows that PHP is declining in popularity, so how can we revive this?

Alexander explained that software as a service (SaaS) coupled with open source and serverless technologies are a winning combination to build and scale new businesses. By extending Drupal’s user experience to cater for the needs of both site builders and SaaS customers, we can revive interest in the framework and the language it’s built on, thus revitalising PHP.

SaaS built with Drupal can be a great showcase of its powers, and Drupal already fulfils some key aspects of the modern web:

  1. Business logic over chores → Drupal modules ecosystem
  2. Strict typing everywhere → PHPStan for Drupal
  3. API first → GraphQL and JSON:API

By further implementing user experience tweaks such as improving permissions, user interface, and supporting a more asynchronous stack, we can improve Drupal for site builders and SaaS customers.

You can find Alexander Varwijk’s full keynote here ⬇️

Keynote 2: ‘Human machines and machine humans’

Keynotes two and three focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and how it’s already changing the world, along with its accompanying issues which we must collectively work towards regulating.

Preston So started Day 2 off by saying that he wanted his keynote to shift away from the conventional emphasis on technology, how we think about Drupal, and code. Instead, he wanted to delve deeper into the code and architecture of who we are as humans, what defines who we are as humanity and what is ultimately the reason why we are all building technology and building websites in the first place. 

Preston went on to explore the risks and rewards of emerging AI integrations, conversational technologies, and immersive experiences; saying that what we can (and should) do, to better prepare ourselves and make a difference is:

  1. Advocate true inclusion and equity at work
  2. Support AI regulation and open source
  3. Unionize and support unionization in tech 

He closed off his keynote by posing these thought-provoking questions:

  • Are we encoding biases and forms of oppression in the products and services we create?  In the content we write? In the interfaces we design?
  • Do we have the right voices at the table when discussing technologies we would like to implement, such as avatars, assistants, and artificial intelligence?
  • How can we best support and fight for historically oppressed teammates? How can we continue to interrogate and confront our own personal biases?
  • How can we work together to end the fact that resources remain in the hands of the privileged and lead to the continued exploitation of workers?

You can find Preston So’s full keynote here ⬇️

Keynote 3: ‘When AI Takes Decisions For Us - From Algorithmic Bias to Discrimination in the World’

Carina Zehetmaier explored the impact of AI decision-making, discussing its advantages, challenges, and concerns. She made it clear that AI is becoming more and more essential in our lives, with the potential to contribute significantly to our economy and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But she also raised some important issues, like the lack of a universally agreed AI definition and the potential problems with its ‘black box’ nature, making it less transparent and understandable.

Carina stressed that AI's influence on areas like the judiciary and crime prediction needs to be approached carefully, with a strong foundation of human rights and a commitment to fairness and transparency. One significant topic was the societal implications of biases in AI and machine learning - she provided real-world examples of how AI can perpetuate racial and gender biases due to its historical data. She pointed out that even when AI is created with good intentions, it can unintentionally amplify existing prejudices, especially when the training data is biased. The global under-representation in AI training data was also noted, leading to skewed perspectives in AI systems.

The keynote then delved into the complexities of human-made classifications and how they affect AI and machine learning. These systems often reflect our inherent biases and choices, leading to societal challenges. However, there was optimism that AI could help us recognise and correct these biases. Carina also touched on the regulatory landscape, mentioning the EU's efforts to implement ethical guidelines and the upcoming EU AI Act. She concluded the session with the message that AI should be used to benefit everyone, with a holistic and ethical approach to its applications - ‘AI only works, if it works for all’.

You can find Carina Zehetmaier’s full keynote here ⬇️

The rest of the Drupal conference talks were equally impressive, offering valuable insights and enriching the overall experience. You can find a full list of all the talks on the Drupal Developer Days 2023 YouTube playlist.

Keynotes and sessions aside, the evening social events were also top-notch and included an apéro on the rooftop, an English comedy night with three international stand-up comedians, an amusing pub quiz, and the official party with the highlight being a Drupal-inspired band made up of four Drupal developers who came together in the last moment to produce some entertaining songs for all of us.

Band making music.
  • Image by Daniel Lemon

Overall, Drupal Developer Days in Vienna was an extraordinary event that left me thoroughly impressed. The conference showcased cutting-edge developments in Drupal, offered insightful sessions on various topics, and provided valuable networking opportunities. Well done to the organisers, who did a fantastic job curating a diverse range of content that catered to both experienced developers and newcomers alike. It left us inspired and motivated to implement innovative solutions in our projects, and we’re already looking forward to the next one!